Dronacharya and King Drupada: A Story of Revenge and Mercy

Most of us know that the Hindu epic Mahabharat is replete with many interesting anecdotes that teach us many rare life lessons. Let us recall one such anecdote involving the lives of Guru Dronacharya and King Drupada.

Dronacharya and Drupada were disciples in the same Gurukul. Over a period of time, both of them became good friends. Drupada was the only heir to his royal family, and that way, a future king. Dronacharya, on the other hand, was the son of a saint named Bharadwaja, a poor Brahmin by birth. He was therefore worried about his future even though he was skilled in all fronts – academic, warfare, sports, and others. He was an exceptional warrior of that era even though he was a Brahmin, not a Kshatriya who were known to be good at war skills. Drupada, however, was not so skilled; so, he used to seek Dronacharya’s help in all his tasks during their entire tenure in the Gurukul.

One day, it struck to Drupada’s mind that he must express his gratitude to Dronacharya for all his timely help in the tasks he was given at the Gurukul. So, he called on Dronacharya and pledged before him that he would love to help him unconditionally in the time of his need. He also asked Dronacharya to feel free to seek any kind of help whenever there is a need.

Many days passed, and when the time came for both of them to leave the Gurukul after completion of their formal studies, Drupada promised Dronacharya to offer him half of the kingdom, which he would rule over, to alleviate his poverty. Dronacharya was too self-respecting an individual to accept such an offer. He expressed sincere thanks to Drupada for that gesture. He also expressed that he would not hesitate to seek Drupada’s help when there is an absolute need. Thus, they departed.

Time and milieu changed with the changing cosmos. With them were forgotten many a promise and many a pledge. Drupada became the King of Panchala. His growing power and the ensuing prestige boosted his ego, thus converting him to a different person than the one who was Dronacharya’s friend at the Gurukul.

On the other hand, the lady luck did not smile at Dronacharya for quite long. He was still languishing in poverty. By that time, he had married Krupi, the twin sister of Krupacharya, and had become the proud father of Ashwatthama. However, he had to struggle hard to make both ends meet.

On one occasion, when Ashwatthama was being ridiculed by a bunch of his friends, Dronacharya overheard their conversation. The basis of the ridicule was that Dronacharya was not able to afford milk for Ashwatthama, and therefore, Ashwatthama was tricked to believe a beverage made with rice powder as milk. That incident saddened the poor father in Dronacharya and he was not at peace with himself. Over a deep thought, he was reminded of his last meeting with Drupada and his promise. Then, he decided to meet Drupada and beg a few cows to nurture them.

As Dronacharya reached King Drupada’s palace, the gatekeepers were stunned to see him. They did not allow him in, because of his poor attire and dejected look. He was ridiculed more when he called King Drupada as his childhood friend. Despite all that, Dronacharya was hell-bent on meeting the King. That compelled the gatekeepers to pass on his message to the King. King Drupada allowed him entry into his court but did not identify him as his childhood friend. He mocked Dronacharya by saying, “How a rich King and a poor Brahmin be friends?” He ordered the court to present him a few cows as a royal favour and send him back. Pissed off with such unexpected, irrational behaviour of a childhood friend, who once promised to offer him half of his kingdom, Dronacharya returned empty-handed. He cursed his fate and took a promise to take revenge on Drupada at a suitable time later.

The vengeful Drona, leaving aside his interest in the Brahminic studies, made up his mind to teach war skills to the Kshatriyas. His brother-in-law Krupacharya referred his name before Bhishma to train the Kuru Dynasty in war skills. Bhishma took a tough test before offering Dronacharya the new responsibility.

As time passed by, Dronacharya discovered the latent talent of Arjuna, among all others, and trained him meticulously. Thus, Arjuna came up as an undisputed warrior. At the end of the formal training, when the disciples asked Dronacharya about his Guru Dakshina (return gift to the Guru), he desired them to defeat King Drupada in direct war and bring the defeated King to him.

The Kouravas led by Duryodhana were highly ambitious and boastful. So, they jumped the gun and hurriedly raised a war against the Panchala kingdom and were defeated. Duryodhana was taken as a prisoner. Then, the Pandavas reiterated the war against Drupada, to honour their Guru’s wishes and to free Duryodhana as well.

As expected, Arjuna, after a fierce fight, won the war and brought the defeated King Drupada before Dronacharya. Dronacharya blessed Arjuna for his bravery. He then reminded Drupada about their Gurukul days of friendship and his false promise, allowing him to relish his shameful defeat. Drupada was ashamed of his ruthless behaviour. He repented and asked Dronacharya to forgive. Dronacharya was humane enough to listen to his appeal, and forgave Drupada, then and there. But as per Drupada’s promise made earlier, he took away half of the Panchala kingdom and made Ashwatthama the king of that. He returned the other half to Drupada.

The helpless King Drupada pretended to be friendly at that time. But in his heart of hearts, he pledged again to take revenge on Dronacharya for that offence. He came back and arranged to offer prayers to the Almighty seeking divine favor to punish Dronacharya. He performed yajnas, aspiring to father a child who could help him make friendship with Arjuna, be the cause of Dronacharya’s death, and wipe away the Kuru Dynasty forever, directly or indirectly.

King Drupada’s prayers were heard, and he was blessed with a son Dhrushtadyumna, who later killed Dronacharya in the Mahabharata war, and a daughter Draupadi who married Arjuna, thus helping his father make friendship with him, and was the sole indirect reason for the end of Kuru Dynasty.

Lessons learnt:

  • Strong determination can win you a battle even when you are ill-equipped – you may need to have a good stock of patience.
  • Hatred and vengeance may lead you to a certain destruction.

[Published earlier at StoryMirror]

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How Lord Krishna Designed the End of Durdaksha

Out of the ninety-nine brothers of Duryodhana, Durdaksha was the only one who was supporting the stand of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war. He was the only one from the Kourava clan who always dissuaded Duryodhana from the path of deceit and violence. But Duryodhana would never listen to his advice. Instead, he ousted Durdaksha from the Kourava clan. When Durdaksha asked for Yudhishthira’s help at those troubled times, he offered him solace till end of the war. But Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, parents of the Kouravas, were unaware of such a happening.

At the end of the Mahabharata war, it was tough for Dhritarashtra and Gandhari to believe that their beloved son Duryodhana had also been slain, like all his brothers. What was tormenting more was their pride of having hundred sons was meaningless. Gandhari, who blind-folded herself after marrying Dhritarashtra to prove her love and devotion for her blind husband, was then desperate to open her eyes to have the last glimpse of her sons’ bodies. What she was perhaps unaware was that her first sight after her years of feigned blindness would burn anything to ashes, maybe due to her divine devotion for her husband.

While taking stroll in the battle field with Bidura and Sanjaya, Gandhari wished Yudhishthira to meet her. As Yudhishthira was getting ready to come to meet Gandhari, Lord Krishna appeared with Durdaksha and wished to accompany Yudhishthira. After they reached the place where Gandhari was eagerly waiting for Yudhishthira, Lord Krishna advised him not to go to the front of Gandhari. Upon Yudhishthira’s innocent inquiry, Lord Krishna answered that it would be a solace for Gandhari to see her only son alive after the demise of her ninety-nine sons. Yudhishthira agreed and sent Durdaksha to stand before Gandhari’s eyes.

Gandhari requested Lord Krishna to unwrap the blind-fold on her eyes so that she could see her son at first sight. Lord Krishna did that. In a fleet second, Durdaksha was burnt to ashes, thus scripting the end of the Kouravas. The heart-broken Gandhari looked at Lord Krishna and was surprised to see Him smiling mysteriously. After realizing the situation, Gandhari cursed Lord Krishna: ‘The end of the Yadavas (to which Lord Krishna belongs) be similar to that of the Soma dynasty (the Kouravas).’

Weighing the sorrows that Gandhari had owned so far, Lord Krishna agreed to live through her curse. Therefore, later, when the Yadavas in Dwarika were in inebriated state and were infighting among themselves thus signalling their end, Lord Krishna did take recluse from all of them, and planned His end while resting at the far-off Prayag Teertha. [You may like to read When Lord Krishna planned His end …]

Lesson learnt: Unless Lord Krishna had it planned that way, Gandhari’s fearsome first sight might have burnt Yudhishthira to ashes. How could the Pandavas who have lost so much in their struggle to defeat the Evil face such an end while a part of the Evil is still alive? In the court of God, Justice reigns supreme.